PAWCATUCK — It appeared that cocktails were being served Thursday afternoon at a new bar at 37 South Broad Street.
Except the drinks were mocktails — which are no longer simply “virgin” alcoholic drinks — they’re made with zero-proof alcohol.
“That’s our all-ages friendly chocolate and almond, called the White Knuckle. It’s got Lyre’s amaretti, which is just an amazing flavor. It’s made with actual cacao and macadamia-oat milk,” said Keith Cowley, bartender and owner of Maritime Mocktail Bar and Cafe, as he poured the libation into a glass.
Cowley, a nondrinker who has 20 years of experience as a bartender, has created a menu of mocktails with “curated ingredients.”
“This one’s called the Hydrographer,” said Cowley, setting up another glass. “It’s got a little jalapeno in there, so there’s gonna be a little bit of heat on the back end of it, but it’s very pleasant.”
Cowley mixed the drink using Ritual Tequila Alternative — a zero-proof substitute that’s part of a new genre of alcohol-free “liquors.” The brand also makes zero-proof gin, rum and whiskey.
A third round included the Cowley’s Poggy Bay Breeze, made with Damrak — a company that makes actual gin and has started with a nonalcoholic version called VirGin — as well as pineapple, pomegranate and lime.
“The name came from Poggy Bay, a very small bay off of Stonington Point. Poggy is slang for porgy, which is slang for scup, which used to be abundant,” he said.
Cowley said traditional alcohol started with experimentation with infusions made with different herbs over a period of time and non-alcoholic versions are following a similar path.
“They’re starting with complex herbal infusions and trying to replicate that same flavor that you would expect from a whiskey, gin, tequila or vodka, but without the effects of alcohol,” he said. “We’re able to mix some of the same kinds of drinks, so some of the menu is based on classics.
But this is a relatively new world, he said.
“New in the sense that there are companies out there making these products and that there are bars out there that are existing solely on the non-alcoholic menu. It’s really only in bigger cities like Denver, Seattle and New York City, but you’re starting to see mocktails show up at other bars,” he said.
Cowley said that selected ingredients in mocktails often have positive effects.
“All the ingredients are curated for quality. Some of our ingredients even have active effects, like adaptogens,” he said. “There are some things in nature that naturally have altering abilities — like kava kava, which can calm you down and relax you – but being able to combine those into these drinks, you’re not only just drinking it as a replacement, you’re still getting a positive effect from imbibing in a curated mocktail.”
Angela Bujnevicie, who is Cowley’s business partner, owned RISE Nutrition juice bar, which previously occupied the space and served organic and non-GMO shakes and juices.
“When I ran the juice bar, there was an interest in having non-alcoholic alternatives,” said Bujnevicie.
Mocktails are a part of the “sober curious” movement — people who avoid alcohol for personal or health reasons – which Bujnevicie described as the “sober conscious mind.”
“I come from it from health coaching and a lot of biohacking, where people are looking to perform better. And so alcohol is just not part of something that they are interested in,” said Bujnevicie. “From that perspective of meeting more people who are very health conscious saying, ‘I am giving up alcohol, I don’t like how it makes me feel.’”
She said she posted an inquiry in late March looking for a partner for a sober bar, and when Cowley answered everything clicked.
“It didn’t take long to find Keith. He had the vision, creativity and desire to make it happen,” she said. “We are the perfect match with Keith being a nondrinker but with 20 years of experience as a bartender.”
Cowley is known for his work as a wild food forager and as the curator of the Living Sharks Museum in Westerly.
He said that the new enterprise brings together his locavorism and his love of the ocean.
“Every ingredient of the mocktails is vegan,”he said. “And with these ingredients, you don’t want to down it in one gulp.”
The libations also include elixirs, wine, and crafted “shots.” Among the light fare choices are shrimp in curry and wild mushrooms tartine, plus several desserts.
Maritime Mocktail is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m., with live music on Saturday nights.